2024 NFLTR Top 100 Players: 90-81

Our 2024 NFLTR Top 100 Players series continues today with players 90-81.

Geno Smith

This is the third year of the series giving our take on the league’s top 100 players, compiled rigorously using both traditional and advanced statistics, awards, positional value, career trajectory and a dash of intuition.

We’ll be rolling these out over the next couple of weeks to pass the time until training camp, so keep an eye out for the rest of the 2024 NFLTR Top 100!

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90: Seahawks QB Geno Smith

Smith lost a lot of shine in the eyes of the general public after a 2023 season in which Seattle missed the playoffs and Smith’s stats declined from his Comeback Player of the Year season in 2022. There was even some speculation the Seahawks might move on, though they quashed it by exercising his contract option and passing on a quarterback in the draft. 

The truth is that Smith was largely the same player in 2023 that he was in 2023, and Seattle’s issues on the offensive line were largely to blame for the drop in production. Smith remained the same — an aggressive passer who isn’t afraid to attack downfield and has the arm strength and accuracy to surgically take apart defenses. 

Smith also did his best to thrive despite the protection issues. He had his lowest career sack rate despite being pressured more than he was in 2022, and his pressure-to-sack rate of 13.9 percent was tied for sixth-best in the NFL, per PFF. He also ranked fourth in big-time throw percentage, another PFF stat measuring what are more colloquially referred to as dimes. 

With a new OC Ryan Grubb installing a system perfectly suited to Smith’s strengths and reinforced protection up front, Smith could be poised for another breakout season, reminding the league why he deserves a place on lists like this. 

89: 49ers WR Deebo Samuel

Samuel’s a unique player to rank here. His ability with the ball in his hands is a force multiplier for a potent 49ers offense and he’s the perfect mismatch weapon for 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan to deploy. It’s not hyperbole to say Samuel is almost impossible for the first tackler to bring down, and his impact is undeniable. San Francisco has an 8-9 record in games Samuel has missed since drafting him in 2019, 53-23 with him. 

Having said all that, as a pure receiver Samuel does leave something to be desired at times. ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics evaluate three facets to create an overall score for players; open score, catching score and yards after catch. Samuel predictably is outstanding in the yards-after-catch department. In the past four years, Samuel has four of the top five scores, with a low of 82 that’s better than anyone else besides Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase‘s 2021 season. 

But in open score and catch score — which measure how good a receiver is at creating separation and catching passes even when they have a lower probability of being completed — Samuel lags behind. His best catch score was 42 in 2020 and his worst was 20 in 2022. His best open score was 52 as a rookie in 2019 and his worst was 32 in 2020, with the other years falling in between. If Samuel were in another system or asked to be more of a perimeter wideout who could beat press coverage and win downfield, it’s likely he would be dramatically less effective. Durability has also been a nagging issue throughout his career. 

However, Samuel’s so dominant with the ball in his hands that it almost doesn’t matter what his weaknesses are, especially as long as he’s with the 49ers and Shanahan. 

88: Patriots OLB Matt Judon

Judon played in only four games last year before tearing his bicep. While he tried to rehab and return, the injury ultimately proved to be season-ending, cutting short what was a torrid start to 2023. In four games, Judon had four sacks, five tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits and a safety.

In the two years before that since signing with the Patriots as a free agent, Judon has notched 29 sacks, which is why he has retained a place on the list despite his injury and his age. Judon is due only $7.5 million this upcoming year which is the last of his contract, and a new deal seems like it would make a ton of sense for both sides. 

87: Seahawks CB Devon Witherspoon

Seattle used the No. 5 overall pick on Witherspoon in the draft last year and he made an instant impact, splitting time between slot and outside cornerback. He stuffed the stat sheet with big plays, recording eight tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, 16 pass deflections and one interception returned for a 97-yard touchdown. 

Witherspoon also notched 28 stops, per PFF, and had a completion percentage allowed under 60 percent. Just like in college, he was a tone-setter for Seattle’s defense with his physical play. Witherspoon looks like a rising star and the next in the lineage of great Seahawks defensive backs.  

86: Packers CB Jaire Alexander

Last season was a down year for Alexander due to injuries and self-inflicted issues. Alexander played in only seven games and one of the games he missed was due to a suspension for appointing himself a team captain and screwing up the coin toss in a game against the Panthers. When he was on the field, he did not pick off a pass and had only five pass deflections. PFF charted him with nearly a 72 percent completion percentage allowed. 

However, when he’s at his best healthy and locked in, Alexander remains one of the elite cover corners in the league right now. There were glimpses of that player in 2023, evidenced by his forced incompletion rate of 15 percent which is quite respectable. The Packers just need to see that version of Alexander more consistently.  

85: Jets DE Haason Reddick

One of the most prolific sack artists playing in the league right now, Reddick had his fourth straight double-digit sack season in 2023. In the last four years, his 50.5 QB takedowns rank fourth in the NFL behind only T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett and Trey Hendrickson. His resume stands up to deeper scrutiny as well. His pass rush win rate of 22 percent ranked seventh on ESPN’s leaderboard. 

The criticism of Reddick has been that he’s undersized, iffy against the run and chases sacks instead of playing within the scheme. The latter two were more fair critiques in 2023 than they had been before. Reddick’s tackle numbers fell significantly and PFF credited him with just 24 stops after he had between 34 and 35 in each of the five previous seasons. 

Still, the league puts a premium on players who can get the quarterback on the ground, and Reddick has established a track record of doing that better than all but a handful of other players. 

84: Lions TE Sam LaPorta

Tight end is supposed to be one of the most difficult positions for rookies to translate from college to the NFL because of how physically and mentally demanding it is. Tight ends are expected to be significant contributors in both the passing and running game and have to navigate the jump in competition in both areas while not getting to skimp on learning the playbook. 

So LaPorta’s rookie season stands out as an accomplishment. Not only did he excel for a first-year tight end, he was one of the best tight ends in the NFL, period, in 2023, recording 86 receptions for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns. It was one of the most productive seasons for a rookie pass catcher ever, tight end or receiver. There’s still room for LaPorta to improve with his route running, blocking and impact after the catch, but he’s off to a terrific start. 

83: Chiefs G Joe Thuney

Thuney has been a paradigm of reliability since entering the league. He’s missed just two games in eight seasons and started all 17 games for the Chiefs in 2023, continuing his rock-solid presence along Kansas City’s offensive line. Thuney ranked first in ESPN’s pass block win rate and was PFF’s top-graded guard in pass protection. He was named to his second Pro Bowl and third All-Pro team — this time earning first-team honors.

82: Browns G Joel Bitonio

Bitonio has been one of the best guards in football for years and had an ironman streak that lasted the past six seasons before being broken last year. The injuries also resulted in a bit of a dropoff from Bitonio as he battled through knee and back ailments. After allowing an average of 17 pressures per season for the past five years, that jumped to 35 in 2023, per PFF. However, Bitonio still finished No. 6 on ESPN’s pass block win rate leaderboard for interior offensive linemen. 

81: Bears WR Keenan Allen

In his age-31 season, Allen turned in arguably the best season of his career, setting new highs in receptions and yards per game and coming close to several other high-water marks. Allen had 108 receptions for 1,243 yards and seven touchdowns — the last number one off his career high. Had he played all 17 games instead of 13, there’s a good chance he’d have beaten it. 

While the narrative tends to be that receivers fall off with age, Allen defied expectations. His open score of 91 per ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics was the best since the service started publishing results in 2017 and the best of any receiver in the NFL last season. Put another way, he was as good a route runner at 31 as he was in practically any other year of his career. 

That wasn’t enough to stop the Chargers from trading him to the Bears after Allen (rightfully) declined to take a pay cut, as teams continue to be paranoid about receivers past the age of 30. We’ve seen the end come swiftly and ungraciously for players in the past, but so far Allen has continued to shake Father Time out of his cleats too. 

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